Presented as an epic-scale Hollywood romance centering on a big, bumpy, beautiful relationship, “One Day” is far from a disaster, but it fails to deliver the emotion, wisdom and true verve that its rushed-along story demands.
Cliches counter the bright spots, and the mismatched leads supply little electricity in this adaptation of the British bestseller.
The director is Lone Scherfig, whose credits include the Euro-wavy “An Education.” Working from a screenplay by David Nicholls (adapting his novel), she serves up conventional relationship dramedy and aims for old-fashioned sweep here. Sadly, bigger isn’t superior.
Set mostly in Britain, the tolerably gimmicky story introduces working-class, socially conscious Emma Morley (Anne Hathaway) and privileged, self-absorbed Dexter Mayhew (Jim Sturgess) on their college-graduation day — July 15, 1988 — and follows their relationship over two decades by visiting them every July 15.
On their first July 15, the two fall into bed, but decide to become friends, not lovers. Over the years, they suppress their mutual attraction as they experience unfulfilling jobs (Em as a waitress, Dex as a soulless TV host) and romances with other people. Eventually, Em becomes a writer, Dex grows up and the two act on their feelings.
To their credit, Scherfig and Nicholls touch on box-office-risky issues such as how dreams don’t pan out, and how the people we fall for can make us more frustrated than happy. Unlike many middlebrow romantic dramas, the movie isn’t unbearably dim-witted or sappy.
But it is too emotionally flat to move us as a love story and too superficial and unadventurous to qualify as an insightful or edgy scenes-from-a-relationship portrait.
The structure of Nicholls’ script makes it essential that Scherfig speed things along and lay on the talk, even though the moody silences with which she’s previously sparkled might have proved more affecting.
The cliches are so stock as to include Em chasing a departing Dex down a boulevard. Shedding the spectacles and starting to resemble a 1960s Audrey Hepburn (echoing Carey Mulligan’s look in “An Education”) doesn’t adequately convey the confidence Emma gains.
The leads, meanwhile, seem on different planes. Hathaway is radiant in movie-star mode, but hard to buy as an unglamorous, insecure working-class Brit in anything other than a Hollywood-silly way.
Her Emma doesn’t ignite with the grittier, less likable Dexter. The inability of Sturgess’ Dexter to convince us that he possesses the inner character Emma deserves makes it hard to root for the pair.
This misfire of a movie also wastes an able supporting cast, which includes Patricia Clarkson as Dexter’s dying mother, Ken Stott as Dex’s father, and Rafe Spall and Romola Garai as Emma’s and Dexter’s temporary significant others. Big Ben provides postcard-style scenery.
Starring Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess, Rafe Spall, Romola Garai
Written by David Nicholls
Directed by Lone Scherfig
Running time 1 hour 46 minutes